Deputy Head of News, Direct Line Group
Last Thursday, at the Women in PR Autumn lunch, we had a very special guest, Karen Blackett OBE.
When we were discussing potential guests, Mary Whenman, our president, said how much she wanted to invite Karen having admired her from afar. At Direct Line, we work with MediaCom, so I asked our CMO, Mark Evans, for an introduction to their Chairwoman.
Karen is a remarkable lady, but still very grounded. She says this is down to her Bajan heritage. She encouraged everyone to be themselves and be authentic and said don’t fall into the trap of ‘covering’. She revealed that 61% of people cover their natural personalities at work. For women it is 66% and for those who are LGBT it is more than 80%.
Interestingly, she said that the people who have helped her along the way haven’t recognised gender or race, they’ve just wanted to win. She had some great advice for the audience:
- We should all champion diversity. At Women in PR we do this through senior networking, campaigning decision makers, and by supporting the next generation of female leaders. It is vital to have this talent pipeline. More diverse leadership teams make better decisions. Karen said to think of the Marvel film Avengers Assemble. They all bring something different to the table.
- Celebrate differences. If you are different from other people in the room, you will stand out. Make sure you ‘own it’.
- Be Gladys Knight, not a Pip! Step into the spotlight and take every opportunity. When I asked CIPR President Rob Brown why he had asked me to speak at the first CIPR National Conference in eight years, he asked me why I had agreed. I live by Karen’s mantra. Why would you say no to such a great opportunity.
- Find some ‘cheerleaders’ who know the real you. They can be within your organisation or within the industry and it really does make a difference. I am lucky at Direct Line Group to have some great cheerleaders supporting me, including the head of media relations, Frances Browning and CMO, Mark Evans. Jennifer Thomas, Direct Line Group’s head of financial communications, and also Karen Blackett’s mentee, recently took me to the Financial Times Women at the Top event as her ‘rising star’. I also can’t stress enough how the Women in PR network has been a catalyst with Mary Whenman and all our committee members celebrating my award success and development this year.
- Expect the unexpected. You can’t plan for everything. As PR professionals, the most successful are those who adapt to change and thrive when challenged.
- Know when to ask for help. No one can do everything. Whether it’s childcare, support in a discipline you aren’t an expert in, don’t be afraid to ask for support.
- It’s not about work life balance any longer. It’s all about blend. This resonated with me so much. I like having the autonomy, empowerment, and technology to catch up with work at the weekend because I had been out of the office at an event or a journalist lunch. It’s about making work work for you.
- Learn to say no and make time for personal KPIs. I am massively guilty of this. I want to be everywhere and do everything – I suffer terribly from FOMO. But I have achieved some of my personal KPIs this year, including completing my CIPR Chartered Practitioner assessment, winning PR Professional of the Year and joining the Women in PR committee. And by keeping up with weekly Pilates and Yoga sessions, I’ve stayed sane and kept my back pain at bay.
- Don’t be like Michael Jackson! Surround yourself with people who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth. And reign your neck in! I’m a bit like John Lewis, never knowingly undersold! My colleague, and PR Week 30 under 30 finalist, Chloe French will always tell me when to show a bit more humility!
Karen revealed that the purchasing power of the BAME community has increased to £300 billion in the UK and we need to reflect that in the diversity of our PR and marketing teams. Karen’s ambition is to go to a conference, and not know all the BAME guests. A diverse team is more fun. It’s harder, it can be messy, but most of all, it makes good business sense.